Three men sentenced to life without parole for their roles in two notorious Pierce County killings might qualify for lighter sentences thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued today.
The nation’s high court, in a 5-4 decision, declared unconstitutional mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.
The majority said such sentences violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments” because children inherently are less culpable than adults for the crimes they commit. Children also have a “heightened capacity for change” that might merit a second chance, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion.
A quick review of The News Tribune’s archives showed at least three convicted killers who might qualify for relief under the ruling:
• Barry Massey and Michael Harris, who were 13 and 15 respectively when they stabbed, shot and robbed Steilacoom store owner Paul Wang in January 1987. Both were tried as adults, convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.
• John Phet, who was 16 when he took part in the infamous Trang Dai massacre in Tacoma in 1998. He was convicted of five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to life without.
Massey’s attorney, Beth Colgan, told Lights & Sirens this morning she’d not had a chance to review the ruling or analyze what it might mean for her client.
We hope to talk to Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist later today about the ramifications of the ruling.
You can read the American Bar Association article on the opinion here.